All eyes are on the UK’s big landowners to protect foxes from being torn to shreds

Dead fox looking into the camera
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Back in October 2021, one of the UK’s most renowned fox hunters was found guilty of encouraging others to hunt animals illegally. Mark Hankinson, former director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, was prosecuted after internal hunting webinars were leaked to the public.

Hankinson was caught on film saying that trail hunting was used as a smokescreen “to portray to the people watching that you’re going about legitimate business”. Trail hunting is the laying of an artificial trail for hounds to follow instead of them chasing a real fox. It was brought in after hunting with dogs was made illegal in 2005.

However, on 20 July, Hankinson’s conviction was overturned after he won an appeal in Southwark Crown Court. The judge ruled that Hankinson’s words “are capable of more than one interpretation”.

The verdict is particularly worrying for all those who don’t want to see foxes and other mammals ripped to pieces by Britain’s rich people in the name of ‘sport’. Since the hunting ban came into force, there has been ample gruesome footage, as well as eyewitness reports, of hunts breaking the law by murdering foxes, deer, hare and mink. For years, hunt saboteurs and campaigners have tried to force big landowners like the National Trust to take action against this illegal hunting. But it was only after Hankinson was found guilty that they were forced to ban the bloodsport from their land.

Considering the judgement

To its credit, the National Trust has put out a statement saying that it won’t reconsider its ban on trail hunting. The organisation said:

There were many contributing factors in our decision to no longer issue trail hunting activities on National Trust land, including the appropriate use of charitable funds, the risk of reputational harm to the Trust and the result of the recent members’ resolution vote on this matter at our October 2021 Annual General Meeting.

We will not be reviewing our position on trail hunting as a result of this appeal.

Read on...

However, other landowners were not so committal in their stance, saying they needed to review the judgement. Forestry England told The Canary:

[Trail hunting] will remain suspended until our board decides on its future in forests we care for.

Meanwhile, Natural Resources Wales told us:

Until we have had an opportunity to consider the appeal judgement, we will not be able to comment.

Dead foxes? What dead foxes?

Perhaps most concerning is the response of United Utilities. It said:

We would need reassurances from the hunts on how they will comply with licences and the law. Until this is complete, trail hunting remains suspended on our land.

Of course, hunts are going to reassure United Utilities that they are acting within the law. They never admit that they are killing foxes, even when caught red-handed. They continue to gaslight the public in the hope that we think that all the dead foxes we have seen in footage are actually a figment of our imagination.

A statement from the governing body of hunting exemplifies this gaslighting. Following Hankinson’s appeal, The Hunting Office said:

the process was initiated by extreme activists for the purposes of political gain and has been a waste of valuable police and CPS resources.

It continued:

Hunts endure many spurious allegations of illegal activity and therefore not only have to operate within the law but also must openly demonstrate that they are doing so.

But we know – and of course they know, too – that these are not just “spurious allegations”. On top of the countless videos of foxes being mauled by hunting hounds, there’s also ample evidence of hunt supporters beating up animal rights activists on the ground. And as if this weren’t enough, there are incidents of hunt staff feeding live fox cubs to hounds, a hunter who repeatedly stabbed a fox with a pitchfork, hunts that murder their own hounds, and hunts that murder people’s pets.

There are currently at least 13 members of hunts, and two land owners, who are being prosecuted under the Hunting Act for illegally hunting a wild mammal with dogs.

It is essential that landowners look at the big picture when they discuss whether to uphold their trail hunting bans. The evidence of the gruesomeness of hunting is staring them right in the face. And they will have blood on their hands if they allow hunts back onto their land.

Featured image via Cheshire Against Blood Sports

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